Hundreds of French police smash nuclear dump protest camp, raid support house and arrest opponents

by Jack Cohen-Joppa, for the Nuclear Resister

Before dawn on the morning of February 22, hundreds of French police in riot gear and equipped with trucks, bulldozers, helicopters and drones, evicted dozens of nuclear waste dump opponents who had occupied a disputed woods in the Meuse district for the last 18 months. A public relations offensive accompanied the action, vilifying opponents with images of previous clashes and supplying the media with dramatic body-camera footage from hooded police wielding chainsaws as they dismantled the protest camp. In anticipation of such police action, a recently-established support network among nuclear opponents across the country was pressed into action. That night, there were demonstrations in front of Prefecture offices in more than 70 cities across France.

A few years ago, the Lejuc Woods were picked as the site for ventilation shafts into the proposed underground burial vaults for France’s commercial and military nuclear waste. In the summer of 2016, when the nuclear waste authority ANDRA illegally walled off a construction site in the woods, dump opponents forced them out and began their own occupation. Since then, activists have planted crops and established residency in treehouses and watchtowers to protect the communal woods. While title to the property remains in dispute, last summer a court ordered the eviction of the new community, providing police with the authority to act now.

To isolate the resisters from their supporters, police blocked roads leading into the woods while arresting activists in the lookouts and surrounding their treehouse homes. As news of the raid spread, cars approaching from several nearby villages were stopped for identity checks of the drivers and passengers. The streets in the village of Bure were blocked as police also surrounded the House of Resistance, where local opposition to the national project has been based for more than 20 years. At least 30 occupants took refuge upstairs as police broke down the door to enter. Some locked themselves together and had to be cut apart, but over the next few hours, all of the occupants were escorted out while police searched the building. Many were taken to surrounding police stations for identity checks. At the end of the day, five people remained in police custody.

A joint press communique from nine of the groups opposing the dump condemned the raid and the hypocisy of the government. While Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot had declared that dialogue, not “force and brutality,” would mark the way forward on the dump question, he sent the groups a disingenuous invitation just the day before to meet with his deputy Sebastien Lecornu, due to arrive in the region on the evening of the raids for consultations in the Prefecture of Bar le Duc the next morning, February 23.

The groups rejected the invitation, asking:
“Is this the way democracy is practiced? Diplomatic visits, promises of employment and nuclear development on one side, and, simultaneously, brutality and indiscriminate repression of an opposition…
“Who is illegal at Lejuc Wood? The occupants of the forest who built a barricade against a project insane and questioned from all sides, or the authorities who by this incomprehensible evacuation supports this project?
“The government claims to enforce the law, while the ANDRA has been sentenced three times and is still the subject of four complaints and legal action before the courts for illegal work on the contested property of Lejuc Wood.”

These raids are the latest escalation in ANDRA’s effort to get a hole in the ground. They come after recent convictions of dump opponents arrested during earlier clashes with police, who face a possible jail sentence next month. 

A recently announced information tour to begin discussion with supporters around the country during the last week of February now takes on more urgency, as does the recent call for people to come to Bure during the first weekend of March to help prepare the camp in the woods for actions this summer.

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A chronicle in English of the last two years of nuclear dump resistance can be found in the pages of the Nuclear Resister newsletter from issues #182 (September 6, 2016), #184, #185 and #186 (download at